It’s the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women today and in recognition of this dedicated day (and the 16 consecutive international activist days), I am sharing quotes from one of the best speeches on women’s liberation and the African freedom struggle by one of the most extraordinary leaders of modern history, former Burkinabe president, Thomas Sankara.
A true humanist, Thomas Sankara grasped that the fight for women’s equality was part of the fight for racial equality. The following excerpts are from
The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women speech, which he held to a rally of several thousand women in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1987.
(Source: Thomas Sankara Speaks Copyright © 1990, 2007 Pathfinder Press)
- Posing the question of women in Burkinabè society today means posing the abolition of the system of slavery to which they have been subjected for millennia. The first step is to try to understand how this system works, to grasp its real nature in all its subtlety, in order then to work out a line of action that can lead to women’s total emancipation. In other words, in order to win this battle that men and women have in common, we must be familiar with all aspects of the woman question on a world scale and here in Burkina. We must understand how the struggle of the Burkinabè woman is part of a worldwide struggle of all women and, beyond that, part of the struggle for the full rehabilitation of our continent. Thus, women’s emancipation is at the heart of the question of humanity itself, here and everywhere. The question is thus universal in character.
- Women’s fate is bound up with that of an exploited male. However, this solidarity must not blind us in looking at the specific situation faced by womenfolk in our society. It is true that the woman worker and simple man are exploited economically, but the worker wife is also condemned further to silence by her worker husband. This is the same method used by men to dominate other men! The idea was crafted that certain men, by virtue of their family origin and birth, or by ‘divine rights’, were superior to others.
- From the first beginnings of human history, man’s mastering of nature has never been accomplished with his bare hands alone. The hand with the opposable thumb reaches out for the tool, which increases the hand’s power. It was thus not physical attributes alone–musculature or the capacity to give birth, for example–that determined the unequal status of men and women. Nor was it technological progress as such that institutionalized this inequality. In certain cases, in certain parts of the globe, women were able to eliminate the physical difference that separated them from men. It was rather the transition from one form of society to another that served to institutionalize women’s inequality. This inequality was produced by our own minds and intelligence in order to develop a concrete form of domination and exploitation. The social function and role to which women have been relegated ever since is a living reflection of this fact. Today, her childbearing functions and the social obligation to conform to models of elegance determined by men prevent any woman who might want to from developing a so-called male musculature.
- For millennia, from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, relations between the sexes were, in the opinion of the most skilled paleontologists, positive and complementary in character. So it was for eight millennia! As Frederick Engels explained to us, relations were based on collaboration and interaction, in contrast to the patriarchy, where women’s exclusion was a generalized characteristic of the epoch. Engels not only traced the evolution of technology but also of the historic enslavement of women, which occurred with the appearance of private property, when one mode of production gave way to another, and when one form of social organization replaced another….
- Humankind first knew slavery with the advent of private property. Man, master of his slaves and of the land, became in addition the woman’s master. This was the historic defeat of the female sex. It came about with the upheaval in the division of labor and as a result of new modes of production and a revolution in the means of production. In this way, paternal right replaced maternal right. Property was now handed down from father to son, rather than as before from the woman to her clan. The patriarchal family made its appearance, founded on the sole and personal property of the father, who had become head of the family. Within this family the woman was oppressed….
- Inequality can be done away with only by establishing a new society, where men and women will enjoy equal rights, resulting from an upheaval in the means of production and in all social relations. Thus, the status of women will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them….
- Her status overturned by private property, banished from her very self, relegated to the role of child raiser and servant, written out of history by philosophy (Aristotle, Pythagoras, and others) and the most entrenched religions, stripped of all worth by mythology, woman shared the lot of a slave, who in slave society was nothing more than a beast of burden with a human face.
Scroll to around 8.39mins of this documentary, The Upright Man by Robbin Shuffield, for more on Sankara’s women’s rights initiatives. However, I much recommend the entire film.
Thomas Sankara – the Upright Man from AfricanewsITALY on Vimeo.
You may also want to check out the posts 7 questions to a black male feminist, 7 African male icons that shaped history, Is feminism really un-African? and African men, are you listening?
James Chikonamombe says
Thanks for posting. Sankara was the greatest leader ever produced by Africa. I saw him as a teenager all the way back in ’86 when he came to Harare for the Non-Aligned Summit. What’s often overlooked is that he was also a champion of women’s rights and empowerment. His book on the subject,”Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle”, is a must-read.
Thank you! Your visit, comment and recommendation are much appreciated.
Carolyn Moon says
I read this article with such pride and thank you Ms. Afropolitan for introducing me to this gentleman, Mr. Sankara. I’m intrigued by his wisdom and insight and a nod to Mr. Chikonamombe for recommending his book, “Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle”. I just ordered it.
I will share this with others!!!
Thanks a lot Carolyn. Sankara’s words never cease to inspire and move
Thank you so much for introducing Thomas Sankara to MsAfropolitan readers. To me, he was the greatest presdinet Africa has ever had. unfortunately good men never last longer:( I have most the books that were written about him and everytime i read them I feel so angry and helpless. When are we going to understnad that Africa will never go forward if we keep on killing people like Thomas Sankara. Apparently the person who killed him is still president and he is responsible for many others plots in West Africa. When this will end????
Thanks for your comment Rai. I agree, there have been no others like him since the 20th century. I miss him so incredibly.
Thank you so much for posting this, especially the video. I spent 1997-1999 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso. Sankara’s legacy ran through the country, but unfortunately Compaore had suppressed a lot of the good Sankara had sparked. And Compaore continues to oppress… I’ll be sharing this with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers.
I “stumble” upon on of his speeches while perusing the library. i was impressed and went to find everything I could on this man. Amazing and brilliant, he was miles ahead of everyone else.
Thomas Sankara was the best and unfortunately least known leader Afica ever or will ever have. I only came to know about him recently after watching the Upright Man. I’m from Kenya and nothing about him was ever taught to us. It’s sad that we concentrate on the histories and culture of foreign lands at the expense of our own. May his legacy live forever, at least, in my heart I know it will.
Thank you for the heartfelt comment. I share your sentiments.
Just as posted previously I didn’t know much about Thomas Sankara other than a few mentions here and there until I saw the catchy title ‘Upright Man’ on youtube and watched the video. It’s not only in Africa but Sankara’s ideas eclipse any leader the world has ever had. He was in a class of his own despite his young age. It is unfortunate he had to go for the interests of others. Hope when the day of judgement comes those who eliminated him will get a deserved judgement. God bless Sankara and may his ideals live forever. He is my hero.
Titus Mbandi says
Never knew this man until I heard of him from Waweru Mburu of Radio Citizen. Am in Kenya. This information has been denied from us, Thanx to the internet.
Arinah Matjila says
I also hear about Thomas Sankhara recently, he was a legend!
margaret saine says
I was impressed by Sankara’s speech about women, and what I read about his political vision. Why is it that great Afridan leaders like him and Nkrumah invariably get killed? I think the Western powers and multinational corporations prefer to deal with a stable dictatorship, rather than encourage the progressive emancipation of Africa– which, we remind ourselves, is a rich continent, but it all goes to the De Beers, the Japanese, the American oil companies, and all the other sharks out there. Thank you very much.
Every time I hear one of his speaches I m always fascinated and engaged with his words and thinking. Unfortunately Africa and the entire World lost untimely a great leader, great inspirer and great example.
Ibrahim Isa Umar Malumfashi says
Indeed you can kill a revalutionary, but not his ideas.
Hooda Ewieda says
he was great man…best one Revolution in africa.
Pigoss Camara says
je me demande, ceux qui ont assassiné THOMAS SANGARA , comment arrivent-ils à dormir?
Asavela Bond Plaatjie says
He is indeed Pan Africanist, who believed in Afrika as one Nation, using one language, Under one God from cape to Cairo to Morocco to Madagasca Indigenous People's Land!
Joshua Bee Alafia says
thank you so much for posting these words from one of my heroes!
Thanks Joshua 🙂
Alexis Phiri says
Thomas Sankara – A very good friend of mine asked me -3rd October,2013- do you know who Thomas Sankara is? No I said.
He went on to tell me who he was only to remember that I vividly remembered him and when I was told to google him and read about him, I must say no regrets; one of the greatest Africa has ever produced pity we killed him or did we? Message to fellow africans please spread his philosophy maybe our young one will learn something. Thanks to David Chirwa for introducing me to Thomas Sankara I will carry his touch.
Africans did not kill him @Alexis. Not singlehandedly anyway. Did you watch the documentary at the end of this post? It’s worth watching. Thanks for stopping by.
Dreám Bongo says
Lost? You mean killed him!
Thank you for the post it is very outstanding . i’m a master student you is writing my thesis on woman’s status . I will be very glad to have some more articles . THANKS one more time
FANIE MKHWANAZI says
The Book About Thomas Sankara is agood one. I want to buy it. Where can I get it.